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Surviving Winter in Finland 101

Couple of Expats share their tips and tricks for surviving the Finnish winter.

Winter can evoke different reactions in people, but if you're living in Finland, it's important to be prepared for the long, dark, and cold months ahead. As we're currently in the midst of our fifth winter in Finland, we thought it would be useful to share some tips and tricks on how to survive and thrive during the Finnish winter(s).

In Southwest Finland, the coldest time of year typically falls between November and April, with the darkest period spanning from November to January. If you're not accustomed to a climate similar to Finland's, it can take some time to adjust. In our case, Kristaps adjusted in the first year or so due to the climate similarity with Latvia, while Megha is still on the journey of adjusting due to a lack of fondness for winter.

Dark, short days

One of the most challenging aspects of the Finnish winter is the lack of light, often resulting in feeling low energy levels throughout the winter. Imagine this: your alarm goes off at 6:30, you open the blinds or curtains and it’s pitch dark. An hour later, you’re on your way to work and it’s still pitch dark. You reach work and – any guesses? It’s pitch dark. When it’s time to leave work at around 16:00, it’s again pitch dark.

We wish we were joking, but this is the reality of living with low light levels during the months like November and December. Not only does the lack of light affect your energy levels, but it can also disrupt your circadian rhythm. To combat this, we recommend:

  • Getting plenty of sleep to fight winter fatigue.

  • Staying engaged in activities that bring you happiness, so your mind and body doesn’t have a chance to linger on the darkness.

  • Planning a positive mental distraction, such as a quick getaway to a warm weather destination or planning a Christmas gathering.

Chilly whether

The cold weather in Finland should come as no surprise when boarding a flight to the country, but adjusting to it can be a different story. The winter temperatures vary across Finland, with the archipelago region experiencing a combination of temperature and wind chill. And while northern parts of the country have the coldest temperatures during the winter, the temperature doesn’t dip as much in the southern part of the country.

The temperature during winter is usually in the range between 5 °C and -20°C in the southern part of the country. In Lapland, temperatures can drop as low as -30°C. The weather here can also vary quite much from year to year, and unfortunately climate change has also contributed to warming Finnish winter. While some years, there isn’t snow on the ground until early January, other years white winter starts as early as beginning of November. The fluctuation in temperatures can also make for dangerous conditions due to snow melting and freezing. To survive the cold weather, we recommend:

  • Drinking multiple cups of tea throughout the day to stay warm and hydrated.

  • Being generous with moisturizers, lip balms, and drinking enough water to keep skin healthy during long winters.

  • Staying informed of last-minute weather changes through weather channels or apps to dress appropriately.

Surviving Winter in Finland 101: tip one, chilly weather equals beautiful sunsets in Ruissalo.

Layers and more layers

Wearing layers is essential when dealing with the winter in Finland. How you dress during the winter plays a big role in how you feel when you’re outdoors. Finnish houses are well-insulated, keeping most of the cold out and maintaining indoor temperatures around 18°C to 21°C, making it comfortable to wear light hoodies or sweaters. However, older buildings may have less efficient heating systems, leading to lower temperatures indoors. A common layering system for city life includes a base layer (such as a t-shirt), a sweater or pullover, and a jacket, along with a hat, scarf, and gloves. It is also important to wear slip-resistant boots to help you stay upright on the snowy and icy days.

The 3-layer dressing system remains the same during the winter, with colder days requiring heavier outer jackets. In our case, we have numerous jackets to better suit the changing weather conditions outside. It is important to have a variety of jackets to choose from, including one for temperatures between -5°C and -20°C, another for temperatures between -5°C and 0°C, and additional options for temperatures between 0°C and 5°C. If you’re not too fond of the cold, it's a good idea to be extra prepared with merino wool base layers and ski pants for the coldest days of the year, though those days are relatively rare here in Turku.

Surviving Winter in Finland 101: tip two, wearing layers is essential to staying warm.

Staying healthy

When the cold temperatures of winter coincide with peak flu season, maintaining good health can be a challenge. In addition to dealing with sub-zero temperatures, it is important to take steps to avoid circulating bacteria and viruses. While there is no magic solution to staying healthy during the winter, there are some tips that can help:

  • Consistently taking multi-vitamins and vitamin D can give your immune system a boost and avoid any vitamin deficiency.

  • If interested, you can inquire about getting the yearly flu shot from your healthcare service provider.

  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and seasonal produce is a key component of overall health and well-being.

At the same time, it's also important to note that other preventive measures such as washing hands regularly, staying away from people who are sick, and getting enough sleep and physical activity can help to keep you healthy during the winter.

Staying active

Staying active during the winter can be challenging, as the shorter days and lower light levels can make us feel more tired and less inclined to leave the house. Personally, we’re tempted to leave the house much less during the winter than in the summer. However, staying active is important for maintaining good health and well-being during the winter months. Finding ways to enjoy the cold, such as participating in winter activities (like ice swimming) or taking walks in the snow, can make it easier to stay motivated to stay active.

Surviving Winter in Finland 101: tip three, staying active is very important for maintaining good health during the winter months.

Learning to enjoy the cold

Embracing the cold weather and finding new ways to enjoy it can be a gradual process. For example, staying active and maintaining good health can greatly contribute to this process. Engaging in regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep can help you feel better and more energized during the shorter, darker days of winter. Dressing warmly and appropriately for the weather can also make you feel more comfortable and willing to spend time outdoors. However, even after spending a few years in Finland, we are still not be the biggest fans of the cold weather and constant darkness. But learning to enjoy it, even to a certain extent, can make living in a place like Finland with its prolonged winter much easier.


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